Report Offers Anti-hijacking Advice

More than half of all vehicle hijackings occur in front of private residences, and in eight months in 1996 there were 8,740 hijackings in South Africa, the majority of which occurred in Gauteng. These statistics are contained in a Hijacking Awareness Guide compiled by Inspector Riaan Steenkamp of the Elsburg SAPS with funding from Netstar.

The hijacking awareness guide contains a lot of useful information on how to avoid being hijacked, what different kinds of hijacking occur in South Africa, and what to do if you are hijacked. The document points out that hijackings are not just restricted to certain localities, but also to certain types of vehicles.

About 51 percent of hijackings take place in front of private residences, with people sitting in parked cars being the next most vulnerable to hijacking (10 percent). Hijackings also commonly occur (in decreasing order of likelihood) at traffic lights, at a stop or yield sign, at business premises, while taxis are loading/offloading passengers, when victims are forced off the road by decoys, and variously when near a parked car, when working on the roadside, at filling stations, at intersections, by picking up hitchhikers and a small percentage of other methods.

Hijackers fall into different categories, including the hijacking of a big truck for its cargo, the hijacking of a vehicle so that it can be used as transportation for another crime, 'showmanship' hijackings where gangs coerce their members into hijacking acts to show that they are 'cool', 'operational' hijacking where a structured group with contacts in the motorcar underworld takes cars for spare parts or for resale, and 'syndicate' hijackers which are the most organised and often have international connections.

Although most hijackings are carried out by men, women in groups of four or five sometimes also carry out hijackings. They are usually in their teens or early twenties, and in 90 percent of hijacking cases are armed. Hijackers often wear a jersey or jacket to conceal weapons, and usually drive high performance vehicles. They typically cruise slowly around an area, sometimes for days, or sit in parking areas.

After scoping out the area, they may stage an attack. When this happens, they usually drive off in a reckless manner - speeding, jumping stoplights and weaving through traffic. Drivers are advised to be constantly vigilant, keep an eye out for any kind of suspicious persons or cars. By getting to know your surroundings it is easier to spot a potential hijacker.

Keep all doors locked, and only open windows to allow a 5cm gap. Ensuring that all the car's rear view mirrors are properly adjusted will also help the driver spot suspicious characters approaching the vehicle. The guide also advises varying your route to any place that you travel to regularly.

People appealing for help, 'accidents' where the car is rammed from behind and someone trying to get help from a stationary car are all situations where caution is needed. As so many hijackings occur outside houses, the guide promotes the use of electrical gates "consider these now a necessity rather than a luxury." However, hijackers sometimes jam the gates to make an opportunity to hijack the car.

If you are in a hijack situation, the guide recommends listening to what the hijackers want from you, not alarming them by making any movements that could be interpreted as reaching for a weapon or a panic button, and answer questions truthfully, especially those related to firearms.

Full co-operation with the hijackers is recommended in kidnap cases. Hijackers should also be informed of children or pets in the vehicle, and asked if they can be retrieved from the car. The report concludes, "The better prepared a potential victim is, the greater the probability of the person surviving the attack with limited physical injury."

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